Most college football teams from major conferences don’t exactly challenge themselves in the first week of the season. There is no exhibition season, so teams will schedule an outmatched opponent to work out the kinks and get a reasonably safe taste of game action. That occasionally backfires, but most often it turns out about as you would expect. A few times each year, though, football teams decide to start their season with a big bang – we’ll see two ranked NCAA teams meet each other in a game that can start the season on a high note for one team and put the other in a big hole before things really even get started. These games are obviously the most interesting for most people to bet on. They are nationally televised, they get plenty of media exposure, and there is the most on the line, so they draw the most attention and the most betting volume. Handicapping these games is a different challenge than handicapping the games between a powerhouse and a doormat. Here are six things for college football handicappers to consider when analyzing these early games between power teams:
How ready are the teams? – This is the obvious starting point for handicapping any NCAA football game in the first week, but it especially important when a team is playing a very strong opponent. Every team wants to be 100 percent ready when the season starts, but it works better for some teams than others. As a sports bettor, you need to look closely at the factors that could stand in the way of the team being as ready as they could be. Have they made changes in coordinators that will bring about big changes and some growing pains as a result? Are they breaking in new starters at key positions? Did it take them a while to figure out who that starter was going to be? Have they dealt with injuries that have set back their preparations? The more things that have stood in the way of preparations, the less prepared a team is going to be, and the harder it is going to be for them to win or cover the point spread.
Returning depth on offense – Defenses typically have the edge early in the football season, so experience and talent on offense can help overcome that. A college team with a returning, talented quarterback is obviously in a good position, but the public will be well aware of that so there isn’t likely to be a lot of value as a result unless you think that the quarterback will be much better than the general public will. Where smart sports bettors can really gain an edge, though, is by understanding if the offensive line has a lot of returning depth and experience. If they are able to control the opposing defensive line and open lanes then the offense is going to be able to have a big day.
What happened last year? – There is a lot of change from year to year in college football, but teams still build on where they were when the last season ended. You need to be aware, then, of what was happening with the team the last time we saw them. Football teams can obviously take a big step forward or backward so you can’t expect to see the same thing you saw last time, but you can draw some nice clues about what is possible? For example, if a team was continuously struggling to pressure opposing passers last year then you have to consider whether they have done enough to address that or if they are still going to struggle.
How well do the coaches typically fare in early games? – Some coaches are consistently excellent at getting their teams ready and motivated out of the gate. Other coaches seem to need a while to hit their full stride. If a coach has established a consistent trend regarding the way they start their seasons then it could provide a strong insight into the game in question. You could also look at how they do when they are facing top level opponents. Some coaches are able to get their teams to rise to the occasion while others seem to play much better against lousy teams than against strong ones. This tendency will affect your betting on certain college teams.
Why are the odds set like they are? – Once the odds are set for these big football games there is a lot to be learned. If you have looked at the game then you probably have a sense of what you think the line should be. If the line that is set differs from what you think it should be then you need to look at why that is. Is there a public bias towards one team that has affected the line? Has the media exposure been unbalanced towards one squad? Does the early line movement indicate that big time gamblers are heavily invested in one side? If you can explain the difference between the line and your opinion then you might find a whole lot of value in the game and bet accordingly
Impact of location – These games are often played in neutral locations, but all neutral locations are not created equal. Often times the neutral location is considerably closer to one school than the other, so that can make it look a lot more like a home game than you might think. Even if it isn’t much closer to one team’s home then perhaps one team’s fans travel significantly better than the other so the crowd influence will be one-sided. That can be a factor when you place your bet pn the point spread.